After Germany: One month on from Alternative War
To understand what happened in Germany, it's necessary to understand what came before the far-right made their way back into the mainstream of German politics — arguably the one place they should have never been able to breach.
From Alternative War, first published 18th of August 2017:
“Merkel, facing her fourth general election campaign in September, around the time of Zapad 2017, was having none of it, responding at the same conference by saying: “We know cyber criminality is an international challenge, and also that Russian military doctrine touches on the topic of hybrid military strategy, but I believe we will have no problems in the political campaign in Germany even if there are disagreements.” It turns out she already knew at the time of the meeting that, as recently as March and April 2017, hackers had tried to infiltrate computers of NGOs associated with Germany’s top political parties. Trend Microsystems attributed the attacks to APT28 and APT29, both spear-phishing with false domains under yet another of the RIS’s operating names, Pawn Storm.
As a result, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (the CDU) proposed the introduction of a new defence law which would permit the country to “hack back” and shut down servers hosting hackers during attacks – in line with the NATO Article 5 approach. The Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI), the German cyber security agency, was also taking on nearly two-hundred people and decided to place additional experts to work with the German election watchdog, to protect the integrity of the Autumn vote.
In May, the BSI held talks with foreign counterparts, including France’s online security agency, to examine best practice in countering hybrid attacks on democratic elections. Maks Czuperski, head of the digital forensic research lab at the Atlantic Council in Washington, had made sure the Germans were aware: “Since late 2016 we’ve been identifying attacks on Chancellor Merkel, and we are anticipating quite a strong barrage as the election approaches.”
Emmanuel Macron, whose campaign was also targeted by the Russian intelligence services yet went on to win, held similarly blunt talks with Putin at the end of May, during which he openly lambasted Russia’s propaganda machine, saying: “I have always had an exemplary relationship with foreign journalists, but they have to be journalists. Russia Today and Sputnik were organs of influence and propaganda that spread counterfeit truths about me.” The comment was made at a joint press conference with Putin after an initial, private, meeting.
The Russian punch aimed at Merkel could well be the best-signalled and may prove to be the ultimate downfall of Putin’s campaign which wiped the floor with the floor with the UK and US. Putin himself has also read the signs and started changing tack, most recently attempting to peddle a theory claiming patriotic Russians could be responsible – but without state backing. Thankfully, I know enough coming out of this to be able to dismiss this line as utter nonsense. It’s a mess, all of it – of that there is no doubt – and investigating something so complex has been fraught with the dangers of any findings being dismissible as a conspiracy theory but the problem with that is: it’s all true – verifiably so.”
While the book is set to be updated to reflect the German outcome, this passage proved true.
As I wrote in the third article in the White Wash series, on the 13th of September 2017: “The far-right party has fielded seven Russian-German election candidates and translated all of their campaign material into Russian. On top of this, they have set out a number of Kremlin friendly policies – including an end to economic sanctions against Putin's Federation. Unsurprisingly, the AfD is broadly endorsed by Putin's media outlet RT and a number of far-right candidates from abroad who are also Kremlin-backed — including Nigel Farage, who spoke at an AfD rally last week with the party's leader, Frauke Petry.”
Germany managed to do just enough to counter a larger rise in support of the AfD and all Germans now know the full extent of Russia's engagement with the 2.5 million who came home from the USSR after the country was unified under Helmut Kohl.
Russia's action in Germany's election was utterly predictable. They hacked, spread disinformation, harnessed the far-right. We have now seen this play out four times on the world stage and still we appear powerless to respond. We have even seen this start to be unravelled in Trump's America. And, worse still, Russia already has assets working in Catalonia, on top of a myriad of other pre-planned operations which will come online over the next twelve months.
It is time everyone understood the Alternative War because Russia has not yet finished and, for the most part, people still haven't even realised they had started.
The one thing Germany's election result confirms is that we actually have interpreted everything correctly. We know. And knowledge is power.